Album Review: Grassroots Rebels’ “Kindness”

ALBANY – Kindness, released on October 21st, is Grassroots Rebels first of a series of EPs. Comprised of Jim Bonville on guitar and vocals and Jeff Tehan on mandolin and djembe, the band, which touts itself as “a socially conscious jamgrass experience,” has put out a great, albeit short, record that demonstrates just how easy (and fun!) bluegrass is to enjoy.

Grassroots Rebels, from left-to-right: Jeff Tehan, Jim Bonville. Photo credit: Michelle Arthur.

With “Wall is a Window,” the album begins with a rollicking intro performed on acoustic guitar and mandolin, outlining the verse chord progression. As the song moves along, the consistently intricate strumming pattern on both instruments is maintained. Following the second chorus, we hear the guitar and mandolin trade extremely nice flatpicked-style solos. After more verses and choruses, this trade-off solo section is repeated, and one more chorus is sung to end the song. The arrangement trick of singing the refrain over a few times at the song’s conclusion gives it a classic finish.

With the second track, “Hope,” we first hear acoustic guitar and djembe, and it isn’t long before a mandolin joins in. The simplicity and relaxed nature of this vocal evokes an inviting sort of ambiance, especially when considering the song’s subject matter. Fairly straightforward, this song serves well as a great easy-listening tune. Not intrusive. Not demanding attention. Just peaceful. During the latter half, there’s a nice instrumental interlude where the mandolin really opens up a bit, dancing around the established melody, while also having fun. What’s nice – in this listener’s opinion – is how the instrumental section carries its audience to the song’s end. It’s worth noting this is the only tune on the record featuring percussion.

Already halfway over and still remaining relaxed, “Sunshine’s Enough,” has a vocal that bubbles above and below some great interplay between the acoustic guitar and mandolin. Often throughout this tune, the instruments deliberately pluck out – with emphasis – the melody notes. This tactic makes the lack of percussion not missed: the force and conviction with which the instruments are played do a fantastic job of propelling the song forward.

To end the album, Grassroots Rebels greet their listeners with “Each New Day,” a solid tune written in 6/8 time. This time signature is one of the more ubiquitous time signatures in the parent Celtic genre whose influence is sprinkled throughout this particular piece. From start-to-finish, the accuracy of both players is unrelenting, and a treat to hear. In this sense, the album is a true masterclass in emotion and musicality through compelling strumming that resonates with passion and intent.

With just four songs, Grassroots Rebels have crafted a terrific bluegrass record, chock-full of solid playing, easily enjoyable tunes, and a swiftness that pulls the listener’s ears along for the ride. Marketed as the beginning of a series of EPs, I can’t wait to hear what will be released next. Go check the record out for yourself here.

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